The Georgia’s high school golf world will converge on the Augusta area on Monday as the GHSA plans to crown its state champions.
The Gainesville boys will head into the event seeking its eighth state title in program history, the last of which was won in 2013.
That season, the Red Elephants won every tournament they played in. They finished the year winning the championship, earning a ring for the seniors on the squad now.
Gainesville won its regional tournament, with senior Spencer Ralston earning low medalist honors with a 68.
As the Red Elephants head into Monday’s event, they’re looking to take advantage of the last year of the one-day championship format.
“A one day tournament benefits us, being younger and the field we’re in,” said coach Bryson Worley. “If you play well, you can get it going and post a good number. That’s what the goal is.”
Worley said there are 12 of the 16 teams that could win the event. Class AAAAA, according to Worley, is the most loaded tournament field in the state.
Class AAAAA teams Greenbrier and Lakeside-Evans will be playing on their home course, Bartram Trail Golf Club in Evans, in the championship.
The Red Elephants are familiar with the course from playing it last season. They’ve also been to the course in the last month to play practice rounds.
“Bartram Trail has what we call hard edges,” said Worley. “It’s forgiving off the tee, but if you really miss one off the tee, you can get some hard kicks and post a big number.”
Gainesville will be paced by Ralston, a University of Georgia signee.
“He’s a good player,” Worley said. “He’s not going to the University of Georgia because he’s not any good. He’s going to tell you the first thing in his mind is to play as well as he can to help win a team title. We preach a team mentality and we have a close team. They all want to play well.”
Worley said he would love to see Ralston win an individual title as well as a team title.
“I really want that for him,” Worley said. “He has everything on his resume except that. He’s played the best tournaments the world has to offer. He loves his community and his school. I’d love to see him come out and be an individual champion.”
Twelve miles away, the Lady Red Elephants will be teeing up at West Lake Country Club in Augusta.
The Gainesville girls earned their way into the state championship as the runner-up in the Class AAAAA sectional tournament behind senior Ashleigh Bishop’s 77. The Lady Red Elephants have three titles in program history, with the last coming in 2012.
Flowery Branch’s Macie Hurst will also be playing in the state championship. Hurst will be competing for an individual medalist spot after shooting an 81, one of the low scores for a non-qualifying team, at the sectional tournament.
In Class AAAA, there was no sectional tournament for the girls after not enough teams qualified to make up the event. All of the qualifying teams were sent straight on to state.
In Region 8-AAAA, Buford’s girls team won the event with a team score of 257. Senior Briana Walton took low medalist honors from the tournament with an 83.
“She’s a four-year player for us and she’s been a leader for our team the past three years,” said Buford coach Justin Johnson. “She’s my consistent golfer. We definitely rely on her score.”
Johnson and White County will also be competing for the Class AAAA girls title, which will be held at Waynesboro Country Club in Waynesboro.
Johnson said his girls have experience with the course after playing there for the sectional tournament last year and at the state tournament the year before. That experience gives the Lady Wolves confidence heading into the event, according to Johnson.
The Buford boys also qualified for the state tournament after finishing fifth at the sectional. North Hall’s boys, also playing in Class AAAA, won the sectional tournament to move on.
The Wolves shot a season-low 315 in the sectional, but Johnson, who also coaches the boys team, said they’ll have to be in the low 300s for a chance to get the first state title in program history.
“We definitely have the ability to be in the low 300s,” Johnson said. “If we can get in the low 300s, we can be in the mix.
“There are some really good golf teams. North Hall has been playing well, we’re hitting our stride and Marist is really good.”
Johnson said only one of his guys has seen the course at Jones Creek Golf Club in Evans, but a team score of 305 is the goal on Monday.
For North Hall, Alex Hicks’ squad is, as Johnson said, playing well.
“It’s all about peaking at the right time,” said Hicks. “We’ve got some guys that have really turned it on at the right time.”
Sophomore Bartley Forrester, who topped Gainesville’s Ralston in a two-hole playoff to take the 2016 Hall County Championships in March, proved to be the low medalist at the region tournament. Forrester earned that title in a playoff as well, just as he did as a freshman in 2015.
Hicks said Forrester, even as a sophomore, is great at staying in the moment and not letting past shots mess with him.
Hicks is confident going into Monday’s tournament with five of his six golfers already having experience playing in a state championship match.
The Trojans have finished as runner-up, but have never hit that threshold of bringing home a state title. Still, Hicks doesn’t know where the mark would be to win the event.
“State runner-up is the best we’ve finished,” Hicks said. “It’s hard to place a number we’d have to shoot. You just have to focus on what you can control. You have no control over the course conditions or what anybody else shoots.”
According to the coach, 300 is the team goal at this point. Forrester agrees.
“I think if we all put some good rounds together, we have a chance,” Forrester said. “We’ve been saying under 300 (is the mark). It might be even more than that, but if we shoot under 300, we’ll be happy for sure.”
Jefferson, Jackson County, Banks County and Lumpkin County will represent the area in the Class AAA girls competition at Pointe South Golf Club in Hephzibah.
Joining those area teams will be West Hall’s Delaney Smith, who qualified as one of the low scorers at the sectional.
Dawson County’s Sydney Morgan will take her second trip to the state championship, playing as an individual this season.
Dawson County’s Hunter Burt and Banks County’s Jamie Wood will compete in the Class AAA boys event at Gordon Lakes Golf Club at Fort Gordon. Burt will be making his second trip to the state championship as an individual, his third altogether.
Lakeview Academy senior Alexis Gopfert is making her state championship debut as the Class A-private match gets underway at Forest Hills Golf Club in Augusta.